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As homes and buildings continue to be built tighter and tighter, and as awareness of the negative health effects of poor IAQ grows, the demand for effective IAQ solutions is understandably rising. To meet that demand, new technologies are being developed in hopes of becoming the “next big thing” in air purification.
But what is the future of air purification technology, and which products will win out in the end? Only time will tell, though industry leaders agree that consumers are more conscious than ever before about the air they breathe.
In the Beginning
The focus on IAQ and a healthy indoor environment is a somewhat recent phenomenon, though the industry has grown substantially in the past few years, due in part to an increased emphasis on the importance of good air quality.
“In recent years, much research has been done that links allergy, asthma, and other lung-related illnesses to poor air quality,” Marty Brinton, LEED AP and senior applications engineer at LG Electronics, explained. “Medical doctors are just beginning to understand the negative impact airborne submicron particulate has on human health.”
Mike Holscher, senior product engineer at Jackson Systems LLC, said the more widely known effects of poor IAQ have caused IAQ to become more newsworthy. “You see a lot more media stories about it. Luckily, HVAC contractors have become excellent educators to their customer bases. Overall, a more educated buying public has driven the awareness of the importance of indoor air quality.”
Over the years, there has also been a shift in the market from passive to proactive air purification technologies. Doug Hoffman, CEO of Best Living Systems, explained that, “Instead of acting like a filter or UV light that sits there and brings the ‘pollution to the solution,’ proactive technologies get into the airstream, go downstream to clean the ductwork, and [get] into the environment, proactively cleaning air and surfaces.”
Holscher agreed that the focus has expanded from just filtration to include other emerging technologies that can work together to achieve the desired goal. “It has become more than just filtration, with more of a focus on the whole home, so products like humidifiers, UV lights, fresh-air ventilators, and air cleaners are being installed as part of a whole-home IAQ system,” he said.
While some air purification technologies are still in their early stages of development, UV technology has been around for decades and has been used to improve IAQ in both commercial and residential applications.
Dan Jones, vice president of marketing at UV Resources, said the main application of UV-C is on cooling coils, though the number of units being placed into ductwork is increasing. “What we’ve seen as far as UV’s use and popularity has been driven by ASHRAE,” Jones said. “ASHRAE has published three UV chapters in its handbooks over the past four years, and from an engineering standpoint, that has given UV a lot of traction. We’re seeing more and more UV specified by engineers.”
Jones added that the technology now costs roughly half what it did a decade ago, making it a more affordable option for consumers.
“UV has been around for a long time, and it’s going to be here for a long time,” Jones said. “UV will be as ubiquitous as air filters in the future; no one will knowingly want to operate a/c equipment without it.”
Cleaning the Air
For homeowners who are cognizant of their indoor environment, whole-home air cleaners are an option for new or retrofit applications. Air cleaners, including the Aprilaire model 5000 EAC, use ionization and a filtering media to clean the air throughout the home.
“Our air cleaner is manufactured by Dynamic Air Quality Solutions and includes the Dynamic V8 patented polarized passive media technology,” Brinton said. “As airborne particulate passes through the Dynamic V8 media, larger particulate are captured by the media fibers. Smaller, submicron-sized particulate passes through the media and leaves polarized. The polarized particles that get through the filter stick to each other, or agglomerate, making the combined particle bigger, and on the next pass through the filter they are large enough to be captured by the media fibers.”
Holscher said Jackson Systems offers the Honeywell TrueCLEAN® to its contractor clients. “These three-step air cleaners attract particles, capture them, and then destroy them, keeping them out of the home’s supply air,” he said. “With homes being so much more tightly sealed, and with growing awareness of the problems poor indoor air quality can cause, we see the market for whole-home systems growing.”
New to the Game
As if contractors didn’t have enough options to choose from, a few new products are boasting cutting-edge technology.
The MCI™ (multi-cluster ionization) SynAIRgPURE HVAC probe, which received an honorable mention in the IAQ category of the 2014 AHR Expo Innovation awards, is placed in both the return and supply plenums to provide aggressive clustered ion mild oxidizers and multi-cluster ions, in a synergistic way, distributed throughout the area, the company said.
“The probe utilizes the more traditional photo-catalytic oxidation (PCO) technology with a dielectric barrier ionizer and other components to create a multi-clustered ion that is safe for clients but lethal to microorganisms,” Hoffman said. “We trademarked the MCI™ technology because it is so unique.”
Also at the AHR Expo, Top Product Innovations (TPI) displayed its Phenomenal Aire cold plasma generator. “Basically, it’s an ion unit,” Ken Hallo, director of sales and science, Top Product Innovations, said. “We’re creating an energy field in the ductwork, so as the air passes by the energy field, the molecules in the air are broken down. With our unit, as long as the chemical bonds that hold that molecule together require less than 12 electron volts, the molecule will be broken down into its individual atoms, or ionized.”
TPI’s product is now being used in nearly half of Georgia’s public schools, where school officials are noticing a reduction in absenteeism, Hallo said. “It’s been changing the way people look at IAQ devices,” he said. “We think this is a game changer. This is a new wave.”
The Internet of Things
But the future of air purification may not necessarily lie in the air cleaning technology itself, but rather in how that technology communicates with the rest of the building as well as the end user.
“Consumers are going to absolutely require that they have real-time remote access to what’s going on and a true status of their indoor air quality environment,” predicted Terry Reavis, vice president of sales and marketing at CleanAlert LLC. “They’re going to require monitoring and even higher-quality filtration systems that are telling them about their environment in real time so they can avoid those contaminants.”
CleanAlert’s FILTERSCAN WiFi Air Filter Monitor & Notification System, which monitors the status of the air filter and alerts the designated smart devices when the differential pressure reaches a preset amount, hopes to lead the way in connected IAQ products.
“We see it as truly a revolutionary product targeting residential and commercial markets,” Reavis said. “It’s installed on the air handler and it’s calibrated with a clean filter to establish a baseline differential pressure rating inside the system. We haven’t found a filter yet that it doesn’t work with.”
Reavis said that when he thinks about the future of air purification, he pictures a real-time connected interface where the consumer can control everything in her home or building from the palm of her hand.
“I’m going to demand a dashboard on my phone or tablet that lets me see anything about my house that I want,” he said. “Is my alarm engaged? My garage door open? My dishwasher overflowing? I want alerts that will tell me about my house in real time. I think we’re on the game with this particular product.”
As consumers demand more and more from their HVAC systems, and as products become smarter and more connected, the industry will continue to find innovative ways to keep the indoor environment comfortable and clean while also keeping the customer and contractor as up to date on their building’s operations as possible.
Publication date: 3/10/2014